Milk was ‘the health food of the nation’ in the 1930s, and the business to be in was 4d Milk Bars. Hugh D. McIntosh imported the ‘milk bar’ to Brisbane, according to an article in which McIntosh explained he had just opened an ice cream factory to supply his milk bar chain and was about to start acquiring dairy farms (Queenslander 1937). Another contender is Mick Adams, a Sydney-based Greek proprietor who claimed his Black & White 4d Milk Bar at 238 Edward Street was Brisbane’s ORIGINAL Milk Bar. When the mayor opened the shop in 1933, he cut a ribbon and switched on an electric cow that yielded “pure milk” and was a replica of the one in Adams’s Sydney shop. McIntosh claimed that London milk bars served a quarter of a million customers a week, with one bar selling 5,000 drinks per day. The Australian ‘Milk Bar Pioneer’ said that the bar he had opened in Paris under the Eiffel Tower seven weeks earlier had beaten all records, and that he was fielding enquiries from all over the world, including America. He believed the milk bar boom had only just begun.
Milkshakes and milk bars were not new in the 1930s. Denis Conomos explains that the milk bar came to prominence between 1910 and 1920 and, in locations where electricity was available, was an important feature of nearly all new cafés by 1920 (118). By 1925 advertisements for hand operated mixers and electrically operated milkshake-mixers, fruit juice-extractors, and ice cream-makers dotted The Australasian Confectioner and Soda Fountain Journal, and these appliances dispensed phosphate drinks, egg drinks, malted drinks, sodas, water ices, ‘fancy’ drinks, and ‘other milk drinks’. Conomos uses the term ‘milk bar’ to refer to an electrically refrigerated unit that stored and chilled water, soda water, milk, and ice cream and was equipped with gadgets for making milkshakes, sodas, and fruit juice drinks. Some of the earliest Greek shops in Brisbane had these, a prime example being the long bar that graced the refreshment room in Charles Tsiros’s Garden of Roses, photographs of which appeared in a Greek publication in 1916 (I Zoi in Afstralia, 245-49). George Sklavos’s shop at 276-78 Brunswick Street Fortitude Valley ca. 1912 may have predated even this (Conomos 119).
Adams’s real success relates to the volume of customers made possible by not providing seating, other than a few bar stools, and not offering food. His Black & White 4d Milk Bar in Edward Street sold “pure milk and fruit drinks” in “various and attractive” forms, dispensed under “the most hygienic conditions” and consumed at the counter. This format was a duplicate of the shop he had established in Martin Place the year before (1932), which served 5,000 customers on its first day and averaged 27,000 customers per week. This kind of stand-up/bar stool trade was borrowed from the American drugstore, although Americans were apparently not drinking milk at counters at that time. The American influence on food-catering was evident in Brisbane long before the 1930s: Tsiros and Sklavos had sojourned in America, and Sklavos, having observed practices there, called his shop the American Bar; English proprietor Thomas H. Thomas opened the New York Marble Bar and Ice Cream Parlor in Queen Street at least as early as 1912. Their customers might have stood at the bar but might also have chosen to sit at tables provided, and they might have indulged in the pies, sandwiches and cakes traditionally offered in refreshment rooms as well as sundaes and soda fountain drinks. So claims that Adams had the first milk bar in Australia, perhaps the world, refers to seating and menu rather than the refrigerated bar itself.
The second aspect of Adams’s success was the standard price of 4d for all drinks, and this was taken up by milk bars generally in the 1930s. Brisbane’s Black & White 4d Milk Bar opened from 9am to 11pm daily, employed a staff of twelve, and sold all drinks for 4d. Michael Paul was managing the Brisbane shop by 1935, when the president of the Brisbane Milk Vendors’ Association challenged milk bar profits: at 4d a glass, he said, milk bars took 8/- per gallon for milk that cost them 1/-. Paul explained that a gallon of milk made sixteen glasses and that 4d also covered the price of ice cream, malted milk, flavouring, and overheads that mounted to about £60 per week. Other 4d milk bars in Brisbane included Chris and Mary Carides’s Quality Fruit 4d Milk Bar in Adelaide Street and Jerry and Elizabeth Palmos’s shop in East Brisbane, both of which opened in 1937, the Regent Milk Bar in front of the Regent Theatre, and Morrison’s Milk Bar on the Queen/Edward Street corner, which opened in 1934 and was advertised as the largest milk bar in Australia and four feet longer than the next largest in the Commonwealth. The success of 4d milk bars was such that 4,000 proprietors had set up milk bars across Australia by 1937.
Queenslander, “Australian Milk Bar Pioneer’s New Plans,” 9 September 1937, page 19; Truth 27 January 1935, page 12; Courier-Mail 27 April 1934, page 6; Telegraph 14 June 1935, page 2; Brisbane Courier 15 August 1933, page 14
Denis A. Conomos. The Greek s in Queensland: A History from 1859—1945. Brisbane, 2002